As humans, we need solitude. And in our crazy, busy, Internet-based world, solo travel is how to find it.
Solitude offers us a chance to get reacquainted with ourselves. We need it to understand who we are when no one's looking.
Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, took the solo trip of self-discovery to its max in an 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. She tells the story in her 2012 memoir that came to life on film in 2014 (trailer below) with Reese Witherspoon playing the role of Cheryl Strayed.
Eleven hundred miles on the PCT is enough to test the most seasoned hiker. Yet Strayed did it alone, as a novice. During the 94-day hike, she found herself. She came out the other end of the trail changed – she was more of who she had been before her life went off the rails.
We don't need to go to the extremes that Strayed did. We can find the solitude we need, one solo trip – short or long – at a time.
Our Need for Solitude
“Solitude, in contrast to loneliness, is often a positive state—one that may be sought rather than avoided.“
Christopher R. Long, James R. Averill, Solitude: An Exploration of Benefits of Being Alone
Thanks to our smartphones it can be difficult to be alone even when, physically, we are. Many of us whip out our phones standing at a bus stop, in line for coffee, or waiting for a friend: any time that there are a few minutes not consumed by something specific.
Before the internet, solitude was normal. There were many occasions every day when one would sit and wait, or simply stand and watch, and let the mind wander. After years of this not being the case, getting comfortable with solitude can be a challenge. It is one I've taken on of late.
Rather than listening to podcasts or music on my morning walks/workouts, I've left the noise behind (as interesting as it may be) and let my thoughts wander for an hour each morning. I may muse about my family and how each of my sons are doing. I may think more deeply about something I saw on the news or consider the book I'm reading. But sometimes it's a creative experience. I've often returned home with a solution to a problem I've been struggling with. It may be the title of my book (yes, that was finalized on a walk) or a practical solution to a technical challenge on the website.
In fact, science tells us that creativity is one of the benefits of solitude. In an article on Quartz on What creative people understand about the importance of being alone, Belle Beth Cooper identifies a few rationales for why people should value solitude.
- To get good at something. Most practice is done alone. Even many of the skills for a team sport are developed practicing alone. Solitude helps you discover just how good you can be.
- You get a break from being self-conscious. Almost everyone worries about what others think. When you're alone, this is not an issue.
- It's a prerequisite for self-transformation. Solitude gives us time to daydream, sort things out, be creative, and, yes, discover who we are when no one's looking.
But life is busy.
This is where solo travel comes in.
Solo Travel Delivers the Solitude We Need
Those who read Solo Traveler regularly know that I love meeting people as I travel. It is a highlight for me. However, that doesn't mean that I don't seek solitude as well.
For me, solitude can mean two things. It can be traveling completely away from people, hiking a quiet trail as I did in the Lake District of England, or it can mean moving silently among people as I have in many cities, including London. Solo travel offers solitude in silence and solitude in noise. Read London and the Lake District: 12-Day Itinerary and for specifics on London read Affordable London: 32+ Free and Low-Cost Tips.
9 Travel Destinations that Offer Solitude
Naturally, there are many destinations that offer the solo traveler solitude. The ones below just happen to be a few I can vouch for.
Solitude in nature.
- Walking the Cliffs of Cornwall I visited Cornwall in November a few years ago and the weather was almost perfect, yet it wasn't busy at all. Read Solo Walking: the South West Coast of England in Photos.
- The Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia I explored the Blue Mountains north of Sydney in March, which is summer in Australia. It was a bit too warm and humid for my liking but totally doable. Read Beyond Sydney: Bushwalking in the Blue Mountains.
- Solo Camping and Kayaking in Ontario I don't go solo camping but Bettine does. She's our writer for more adventurous trips. Certainly, the solo, interior camping trips she does with her dogs are wonderful opportunities for solitude. Read 10 Lessons Learned from a Solo Camping Trip.
- England's Lake District This was one of my first destinations as a solo traveler and it was absolutely perfect. I walked the fells every day in solitude. In the evenings I went to the pub and connected with the locals. Read London and the Lake District: 12-Day Itinerary.
- Hiking Scotland – Two Routes The walking paths of Scotland are famous. We have two walking destinations to recommend for solo travelers: the Isle of Skye and the West Highland Way. Read Solo Travel Destination: The West Highland Way, Scotland and The Spectacular Isle of Skye Without a Car.
Solitude in the city. Going to a destination where you don't know the language delivers sweet solitude.
- Bologna, Italy Mid-size, safe, and friendly, Bologna is also a half hour by train to the center of Florence, an hour by train to the center of Venice. One of the things I really loved is their evening ritual of going for a walk to meet up with friends and enjoy a gelato or a glass of wine. Read Solo Travel to Bologna and Emilia Romagna – 32 Tips.
- New York City In a big city it's your choice. Connect with people–New Yorkers are friendly–or keep your distance in silence. Central Park, Broadway and off-Broadway Theater, the Village: there is so much to see and do that I always get more out of New York. Affordable New York City: 32+ Free and Low-Cost Tips and Grace’s Nerdy New York City Adventure: A Twenty-something Travels Solo.
- Quebec City, Canada Close to home for North Americans yet very French, this destination is great for solo travelers who are looking for solitude in a different culture without going off the continent. It's warm in the summer but winter cold is the source of some of Quebec City’s culture. Read Solo Travel Destination: Quebec City, Canada and Quebec City Carnival and a Packing List for Cold Weather.
- Take a road trip. There's nothing like a long drive in silence. That's perfect solitude. Check out Best Solo Road Trips: 10 Routes, All Solo Traveler Tested.